A frozen portion of Moosehead Lake is seen from an overlook on the Indian Trail on Mount Kineo in this Feb. 10, 2021, file photo.

Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s a loss, but not a big loss. I’m grateful for what I have,” said Diane Davis, 76, who moved into a Belfast assisted living home three years ago. “I feel more comfortable being here. It’s less worrisome. I like being with other people, rather than being by myself.”

What we’re watching today

A bill to grant state recognition for a second band of Maliseets could be complicated by larger conversations around sovereignty in Maine. After being stymied in 2012, former Houlton Band of Maliseets tribal Rep. David Slagger is trying again to get state recognition for the Kineo Band of Maliseet, a group that derives its name from the famous mountain on a peninsula in Moosehead Lake. The effort has been presented as an economic opportunity for the region and for the tribe to get access for cultural preservation activities.

The prior effort stalled after some of the state’s federally recognized tribes opposed it, fearing the loss of federal funds. They are rallying against it now, with a letter signed by all five tribal chiefs, including Houlton Chief Clarissa Sabattis, who initially said she would not oppose it. They are backed by the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.

The chiefs argue that Maine has no process for state recognition and that granting recognition without one would allow those without indigenous ancestry to gain access to services and exploit their culture. Only 13 states recognize tribes within their borders, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Because Maine has no process, it is hard to say what bar the Kineo would need to clear to be recognized beyond the bill. The federal process involves a long process of historical and genealogical research or tribes can seek acknowledgement by Congress. Vermont requires recognized tribes to prove kinship to a historical tribe and that members live in the state.

On those grounds, Slagger points to an 1839 petition from Monson residents and Maliseet members asking for lands near Moosehead Lake. But the Penobscot Nation has ties to the land as well, tribal historian James Francis Sr. testified to the Judiciary Committee.

The debate comes as the tribes face another battle to rework their relationship with the state. The Judiciary Committee made a historic decision last year to support an effort aimed at restoring tribal sovereignty in Maine, but was quashed when the Legislature did not return. Supporters are trying again, but obstacles including industry group opposition and lingering doubts from Gov. Janet Mills about some provisions remain. 

The sole tribal state representative, Rena Newell of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, is also pursuing bills that aim to get more tribal voices included on boards governing the state’s university system and marine resources, as well as an advisory council on fisheries and wildlife. Tribes have historically clashed with the state in those arenas outside of sovereignty conversations. Those factors will be at play as the Kineo bill gets a work session in the judiciary panel today.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Janet Mills and the GOP have little time to make a deal on how to tax Maine businesses that received pandemic loans,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The required two-thirds majorities in both chambers to enact changes before Tax Day on April 15 leaves little time to agree. Republicans have indicated the issue is a top priority, with Assistant Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot of Augusta saying that anything less than full conformity will tank his party’s support for the supplemental budget.”

— “Susan Collins isn’t sponsoring a top LGBTQ-rights bill this year,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Collins spokesperson Annie Clark said Wednesday that the Maine senator agreed to introduce the bill with an ‘agreement that all of the cosponsors would work together to make further changes’ but that others ‘were unwilling to work out those changes.’ She declined to specify the changes Collins was pushing for, however.”

The Maine Republican Party will be meeting in March to discuss a possible Collins censure. Members of the state committee frustrated with Collins over her vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial had already submitted enough signatures for the meeting to occur before more than three dozen of them signed a letter earlier this month saying “grassroots” conservatives were “almost universally outraged” by her vote.

Republicans could pass a formal censure at the meeting, which is set for Mar. 13. But that or any other results would just be symbolic, as the party has no power to actually punish Collins for the vote.

— “Conservationists and lobstermen are unhappy with federal rules to protect right whales,” Fred Bever, Maine Public: “Scientists have said even one death a year would lead to extinction. But several conservationists also argued that the proposed rules would be ineffective, because they rely on old data and overly rosy estimates of the species’ survival rate. And they said the seasonal closures aren’t as long enough or big as they should be.” Here’s your soundtrack.

Maine secretary of state to back voting-rights push in congressional testimony

The state’s new elections overseer has been active early in her tenure pushing for others to copy Maine’s liberal voting laws. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows will testify before a U.S. House of Representatives panel at 4 p.m. in support of H.R. 1, a signature and sweeping Democratic electoral reform measure that would, among many other things, require same-day registration, enshrine voluntary public funding for campaigns and mandate states use independent commissions to draw congressional districts. All of those things are done in Maine.

Bellows, a former state senator who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, also testified earlier this week in Oregon on behalf of a push to allow inmates to vote, as they can in Maine. Widely seen as a potential Democratic candidate for higher office down the road, she has shown an activist bent in her first months in office, also advocating for progressive changes including automatic absentee ballots for voters who want them and state-paid postage for those ballots as well.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...